Vicar's Sermon

Sermon preached by the Rev'd Fr. Donald L. Turner, Vicar, St. Peter's-at-the-Light Episcopal Church, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, August 18, 2019 (10 Pentecost, Proper 15 - Year C).

St. Luke 12: 49-56

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division!

Tough words! This is not the Jesus we image. We want to see him as the “Prince of Peace.” But as much as we welcome him as the soothing “balm of Gilead,” as much as we know him as the music of the soul “that soothes the savage breast,” we cannot, we dare not, diminish these words!

Jesus has brought fire to the earth. Fire purges, fire destroys, fire cleanses. He baptizes us with the fire of the Holy Spirit. God captures the curiosity of Moses through the fire of a burning bush. The earth will be consumed by fire, set ablaze by a dying sun. And then there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But first things first, long before the cosmic upheaval that will destroy and recreate. Long before this he must suffer and die. This is a journey he is willing to make, this is the baptism with which he is yearning to be baptized. And through this all things will be made new.

Who can comprehend this? We can, if we ask for the gift of discernment. However, some will not see as we see. The result is confusion, misunderstanding, estrangement, even hostility. Because we see, and others do not see. So, it was in the time of Jesus. Some will affirm him as God’s Anointed One, the Messiah or Christ. Others will not. And so, in those early days of the nascent Church faithful Jewish families were divided. A son believes, his father does not. A mother believes, and her daughter mocks her. A mother-in-law believes, and her daughter-in-law tells her mother-in-law to mind her own affairs. She does not believe. Jesus sees this as inevitable, and this is his forecast. His disciples listen intently, and they are amazed.

He sees what is coming, why can’t everyone see it? When the west wind comes off the Mediterranean, and the dew point is high, the hills of Palestine may cause clouds to form and rain to fall. They know how to tell what is coming in the weather. Why can’t they perceive the advent of a new age in the message of Jesus? A south wind blows from the Arabian Peninsula, bringing scorching heat. When the south wind begins to blow they know what is coming. Why can’t they comprehend the message of Jesus that a new age is coming? The signs are all around us. Are we blind? Are we deaf?

You don’t think the Gospel brings division? Karl Barth, the Swiss Reformed theologian who was born in 1886 and died in 1968, points out that “it is in the nature of the Gospel to provoke division and controversy.” And he gives some good examples that I will share with you. Those who defend the poor will provoke the anger of the rich. Those who defend the outcast enrages those who are the in-group. To support a fair wage irritates the robber-barons. To call for peace incites others to war. These are his examples from the first quarter of the 20th century, but I’m sure they resonate with us as we contemplate the world scene which hasn’t changed all that much by the last quarter of the 20th century and into the 21st. This is because pride and greed are no strangers to human hearts.

I am struck by the fact that Barth’s examples of how Christ brings division are from a his broad communal and even global consciousness. That is what we need, and too often that is what the Church lacks. I struggled to come up with an example of what I mean so that you and I can understand this, and the best I could do is what we mean when we speak occasionally of having to “bear our cross.” Think about this for a moment. Don’t we mean that our cross is enduring the “slights and discouragements of the daily round?” I’m sure that clause is in our Prayer Book somewhere, perhaps in one of the Collects.

So, what should we understand about bearing our cross? I think no less than what it meant for Jesus: obviously and much broader context, suffering and dying for the sake of humanity. So, here is where Barth’s vision comes into play for us. The fire that is scorching the earth is burning up the old, the worn out, the useless and making way for new growth. This is the growth of the realm of God. What does this mean for the Church? If we have a broader communal and global consciousness we are not going to be restrained from our mission to share Christ’s message. We are going to realize that our lives and all of the Church’s resources are for the common welfare of all God’s children. We will not be made silent by fear, but speak boldly in the Name of Jesus “to his great glory and our great good.”

In the movement from timidity and fear to boldly and courageously do the work of the Church we may very well be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized. At the least this may mean challenges and criticisms from all sides that we are being irresponsible and risking the security of our future of our church. But we dare to risk all for the glory of Christ. Something is stirring among us, my friends, that we barely comprehend. It is fire and water, that purifies and tempers. And we say with Jesus, “What stress (we) are under until it is completed!”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Copies of Fr. Turner's sermons are always available each Sunday on the table in the rear of the Nave. He advises that you do not take a copy to follow him while he is preaching because he preaches from memory of the manuscript and often departs from the text, especially if he thinks of a good joke! Sermons are not lengthy. The Vicar had a Professor of Homiletics who told the class, "If you can't strike oil in ten minutes, quit boring!"